Friday, June 01, 2007

An Empire State Fan: Guster’s Brian Rosenworcel

If you’ve ever seen Guster perform their darkly melodic pop songs on Leno or Conan (or if you’ve caught the band on what seems to be their never ending tour), then you’ve seen a rather tall baseball fan banging his hands on a huge assemblage of percussion. I first spoke with Brian Rosenworcel about the band’s wickedly addictive 2003 album Keep It Together. It was one of rare times that I enjoyed speaking with a musician so much that I became a fan of the band’s music. I ran into Brian a couple more times at my night job at a Brooklyn bar, eventually discovering he was just as big a Mets fan as I am. I mean, the man took his bachelor party to Shea—now that’s devotion! So it only made sense that I track Brian down one Friday afternoon during the band’s spring tour to talk about his favorite baseball memories. (Interview by Steve Reynolds)

Steve: Did you have a baseball hero growing up? And why did you like that certain player?

Brian: Mookie Wilson. For a while I liked him as much as I liked anyone who could score from 2nd base on a wild pitch. But at some point my dad said something about how he was a "model citizen" and did a lot of "charity work" and the little altruist in me was converted into a full-blown Mookie addict. Poster on the wall, constant prayers for Lenny Dykstra to break a thumb, etc. I even briefly tried rooting for the Toronto Blue Jays when he was traded, but that didn't work out so well. And while I could go on and on about the emotions of Game 6 in the '86 World Series, the most prominent Mookie memory I have was the heartbreak I felt in some playoff game against the Dodgers when Kirk Gibson made a diving (stumbling?) prayer of a catch against a Mookie line drive during a crucial late inning at-bat that would have been an inside-the-park home run if Gibson had missed it.

Steve: Did you play little league? Did you use your height (Brian’s well over 6 feet tall) to your advantage as a pitcher?

Brian: I did play a lot of little league, and for a while it was a smashing success. I was a shortstop and coordinated enough to pitch when I was younger. As we all somersaulted towards puberty my pitching velocity didn't quite catch up to my peers though, and I became a full-time shortstop. That is, until the prestigious President's Cup Championship Game when I was twelve. There was some league rule where no one pitcher could throw more than 9 innings during a playoff week, so Grody Chevrolet turned to me to start and keep our team in the game for three innings, until we were allowed to bring in our overworked ace, Billy Gills. I gave up a few runs and earned a no-decision, but at least I didn't walk everyone I faced. I will always remember watching the game being broadcast and re-broadcast on West Hartford Cable Access TV because one of the announcers mumbled off-mic that "everything this guy throws is an off-speed pitch." I shook it off. You know why? Because we won the motherfucking President's Cup, douchebag-announcer! I scored the winning run on a wild pitch! I'm in a B-level celebrity drummer now and you're still doing color commentary for West Hartford Cable Access sports you prick!

Steve: Since you went to college in the Boston area, did you find yourself becoming a Red Sox fan? If so, was that painful?

Brian: I resisted the charm of the Red Sox, at least until they won four straight against the Yankees in the ALCS a couple years ago, at which point my relationship with that team hit a turning point. But at Tufts I was an unabashed Met fan, and I even snuck a broom into Fenway for game 3 of an interleague series with the Mets where, obviously, I thought the Mets would win and complete a three game sweep. I had the straw end of the broom against the back of my head under a hood, and the broom stick all the way down my leg. I remember being amazed when Fenway security frisked me and found nothing. No one is safe at Fenway. Anyway, the Mets lost that game 5-0 and I was the jackass in the Mets jersey walking out with a broom. People were calling me "janitor" and stuff. Those are the risks you take.

Steve: Guster did the national anthem at Fenway Park last year—what was that experience like for you, considering you are the non-"singing" member of the band.

Brian: The other guys worked out a lovely rendition of the anthem with three-part harmonies. I didn't want to feel like dead weight up there, so I brought a pair of marching cymbals out with me and held onto them the whole time. I thought it'd be brilliantly anti-climactic to never actually hit the cymbals together—like something Andy Kaufman would do, in my mind. This quickly became controversial in the Guster camp, with everyone weighing in “You gotta hit them! You gotta! Why would you bring ‘em out if you're not gonna hit them!?” The worst part is that while my bandmates were doing yeoman’s work next to me, the Jumbotron camera guy was obsessed with not missing “The Cymbal Moment,” so I was on camera, doing nothing, mouthing the wrong words, for the entire length of the song. On our way up to the skybox after the performance, a Sox fan yelled “Good job cymbal-boy!” to me.

Steve: Does anyone else in the band or your crew share your passion for baseball?

Brian: No. They think I'm an alien. I'm the only one out of ten people on my bus who follows sports at all (though everyone in the band plays bocce). And while I suppose it's a bit of an aberration for a musician to love baseball, I'm in good company. Yo La Tengo. John Fogerty. Paul Simon. On opening night a week ago I was getting pumped up for the season watching a Mets preview show on the bus's satellite TV. They flashed back to game 7 against the Cardinals from 2006 and showed the last inning or something. While I was reliving the pain, a fellow Guster member walked in, looked at the television and asked, “Is it the playoffs already?” If they'd been showing ESPN Classic highlights of the 1969 World Series my bandmates might have asked, “Wow are the Mets in the World Series this year?”

Steve: Is there a Guster song you'd love to hear played in between innings, or as a batter comes to the plate?

Brian: Unbelievable timing on this question. This morning on the bus Joe [Pisapia, the band’s multi-instrumentalist] was chopping up a clip of our song “Come Downstairs & Say Hello” for a mystery Baltimore Oriole who requested to use a certain portion of the song for plate appearances. I'll believe it when I see it. I have a hunch it's not Miguel Tejada. [Ed note: We later found out Orioles closer Chris Ray is using it as his 9th inning entrance music.]
As for between innings, I've heard they use "Amsterdam" at Wrigley and Fenway sometimes, but in general any Guster song at a ballpark is just another missed opportunity to play Gary Glitter.

Steve: Is there any Guster song that has a baseball reference or was influenced by the game?

Brian: Well, in one of our older songs that I wrote the lyrics for there's a verse that goes:
"Your love is like Armando Benitez, it's dangerous baby, dangerous. You're like a split finger fastball that never tails away." I mean, no. No baseball references.

Steve: Have you used touring as a chance to work in seeing games in parks around the country? If so, did you have a favorite park you visited?

Brian: I do do this. Funny, no one on the bus gives a shit about baseball but they'll all jump at the chance to spend twenty bucks to see the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins play in a stuffy domed stadium on a day off. After spending some formative years seeing games at Fenway, I've found most of the new ballparks a little generic and disappointing. Am I the only left who thinks Shea is charming?

Steve: Yes, I think you are. [Ed: Objection, I agree with you Brian—MF] Have you ever taken part in a fantasy league? If so, how much did you obsess over your team?

Brian: I joined an NBA fantasy league a couple years ago, after years of making fun of people who participated in these things. It became a full-time job, a mathematical obsession that threatened to break up my marriage. I began sneaking in statistical consultations with my cell phone during dinner parties and otherwise rejected social opportunities in favor of staying home and rooting for Jermaine O'Neal to get a rebound off a missed free throw. It's not healthy, and it damaged my relationship with the New York Knicks. Well, that and the fact that Isiah Thomas is not exactly Omar Minaya. Anyway, even though I won my NBA fantasy league I vowed never to try the MLB version, out of respect for the Mets (i.e, “I love the Mets except when Adam Dunn is batting—c'mon Adam Dunn!”). And of course out of respect for my wife. And myself.

Steve: So you're one of four musicians we have talking about their passion for baseball in this issue—any thoughts as to what attracts rockers to the national pastime?

Brian: Let me guess. The others are John Fogerty, Paul Simon, and Ira Kaplan. Am I wrong?

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